9 Questions you have about your will, answered
Last updated on 16th April, 2020 at 05:37 pm
None of us likes to plan for the worst, but it can also bring peace of mind – not to mention make a huge difference for your loved ones. Whatever your age, it’s important to consider having a will – most especially when you have dependants or start building assets, like savings accounts, or a home. But where do you even start? David Thomson, legal advisor at Sanlam Trust, is here to help.
1 What actually is a will?
“A will is a legally binding, written document that you make freely and voluntarily detailing how you would want your assets to be distributed once you’ve passed away,” explains Thomson. So whether you want to look after loved ones after your death, ensure certain people receive certain assets, or simply protect anything you’re leaving behind from being managed and distributed by the state without your written direction, a will is vital to have.
In fact, even if you consider yourself young it’s important to have a will in place – sadly, anything can happen in life, and you need to be prepared. Plus, you can continually update your will, so you don’t need to worry about creating a will ‘too soon’ in life.
2 What key things should be in my will?
Your main goal is to ensure you’ve communicated everything you want to about any assets you’re leaving behind. Thomson provides a quick checklist:
- “State that this is your ‘last will and testament’, as that cancels out any other possible versions of your will,” says Thomson.
- “Ensure you have appointed a professional executor,” adds Thomson. (Scroll down to read more about what this means and how to choose someone).
- Thomson continues: “State any special cash requests you may have. For example, if you are leaving money to children under 18, you can state in your will that you only want them to receive access to that money once they’ve turned 21.”
- Think about multiple possibilities. “Include alternative – or ‘Plan B’ – heirs for things, just in case that person has also passed away by the time your will comes into effect,” says Thomson. For example: “I leave my house to my daughter Jane Smith, failing whom my sister Janet Smith.” Which means if your daughter is no longer around, your sister would then be next in line to receive the asset.
- “If there are any particular legacies, like a family ring, piano or a special piece of furniture that’s been passed down through generations, state who you want to be the custodian of it,” explains Thomson. The point is: don’t worry about listing every single thing you own in a will; focus on the key items that matter, or that you have a particular intention with.
- Then, turn your attention to the rest of the things you’re leaving behind and how you want them to be handled. “Deal with residue (what’s left over) like your savings, investments, any shares you might own and so on,” says Thomson. Anything of value that can be passed along to someone – think out of the box (eg not just tangible, physical items, but ‘less visible’ assets like savings funds and shares in a business).
3 Hang on, isn’t having an estate plan the same thing?
People often consider estate planning as the same process as creating a will, but there’s a difference and Thomson suggests it may be best to do both. “Estate planning is done by a financial planner and is the process of analysing all your financial assets (policies, property, investments etc) in preparation for your last will and testament,” he clarifies. A will is your final voice on how you want your assets to be distributed, which legally must be carried out. “If you have an estate plan but no will, you still won’t have control of how your assets are distributed in the event of incapacitation or death,” he stresses. To get the ball rolling on your estate planning, speak to a financial planner by clicking here.
4 But why is it such a big deal if I don’t have a will?
Although the state implements a fair process in the event you become incapacitated or pass on without a will, having a will empowers you to create a custom plan that takes your family’s situation into consideration. “If you don’t have a will, the state decides how your assets are distributed,” explains Thomson. “If you planned to give one of your colleagues or best friends a share in your will, the state won’t take that into consideration.” Your assets will only be divided amongst your spouse and children – or as the state sees fit in certain situations. “If you have a life partner or are in a long-term relationship but aren’t married to each other, it’s possible that they won’t be considered when distributing your assets,” he adds.
Your own will can also possibly speed things up – you are no longer reliant on how quickly or slowly the courts are able to process and distribute your estate.
5 Can I have a joint will with someone?
Wondering how to navigate a will with your partner? Yes, you can have a joint will with any person. Thomson sheds some light: “It’s possible to have separate wills while you are married, even if you are married in community of property. In this case your will should only contain direction on your personal share of the assets you had before you got married and what you’ve accumulated with your spouse.”
Thomson also suggests that you effectively communicate this process with your partner to ensure you are both aligned in terms of how assets will be distributed and to who. What you don’t want are two wills that are in conflict with one another.
6 What is an executor and how do I choose one?
“Your executor is the person you appoint to collect your assets, close bank accounts, wind down your affairs and complete the general administration tasks of your will in your absence,” says Thomson. Often people appoint a lawyer, accountant or financial advisor whom they trust and have built a relationship with, but you can appoint a family member or friend. What is a good idea, though, is to ask their permission first. It’s also important to note that you generally shouldn’t appoint an executor who stands to benefit from your will: ideally, they should not be in line to inherit anything. They should be reliable, trustworthy and literate.
If you don’t have a will or choose an executor who doesn’t fulfil the role adequately, the state or your heirs step in. “If the value of your estate is R250 000 or less, a Master’s Representative can be appointed by the state, or heirs of the will can nominate someone,” explains Thomson.
7 How do I pick which assets to specifically include in my will?
This is where your estate planning comes in handy. “Your financial planner can help you review all your assets and their value, including your savings and any specific high-value or sentimental items, like jewellery,” says Thomson. This will give you full sight of your assets and how you can divide them up according to their value and your family’s needs. It may sound overwhelming but remember that you have help – simply give your financial planner a call or click here to request an appointment.
8 How do I leave specific items to specific heirs?
“The beneficiaries of your will are the people you would like to leave certain items to,” says Thomson. But in the process of doing that, it’s advisable to consider longevity by taking into account key factors like their age and financial position. For example, if your heirs are younger than 18 and you would like to leave them a lump sum from your investments, you can state in your will that the money should be preserved in a trust fund until they are of a certain age and able to manage it effectively.
9 How do I make sure my will is legitimate?
For your will to be valid, Thomson says that you must be at least 16 years of age and need to “ensure you have two witnesses (over 14; neither should be beneficiaries in your will) to sign at the end of the Will, at the same time and in your presence when you sign your will. If your will consists of more than one page, you must sign each and every page. This means that it can by typed or handwritten, if your will is handwritten, remember that the person who writes the will is not allowed to be mentioned as a beneficiary in your will.”
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